After leading Hillgrove to a 26-5 record and an appearance in the Class AAAAA state championship game, Fowler is calling it a career after 30 seasons on the bench.
The Cobb County native spent her first seven years at the original Campbell High School, then 16 years at McEachern before wrapping up the final six years of her career with the Lady Hawks.
Fowler never won a state championship, but after two appearances in the state finals, four trips to the semifinals and racking up 568 victories, there’s nothing for her to be ashamed of.
The veteran mentor coached her final game Friday against her former McEachern team in the Class AAAAA state championship. After making a third-quarter surge to get within striking range, the Lady Hawks fell 69-36 to the undefeated Lady Indians (33-0), a team that may have made a strong case at finishing as the nation’s top-ranked team.
“She has always distinguished herself as a great coach, and we hated to see her go,” McEachern athletic director Jimmy Dorsey said. “What she and (current McEachern coach) Phyllis (Arthur) have been able to do with girls basketball (at McEachern) is a testament to both of them. Since she’s retiring, I’m happy she got a chance to end her career in a state championship game.”
Fowler is known for building teams and dedicates many hours working with varsity players and youngsters. She’s a fundamental coach who emphasizes the basics of dribbling, shooting, rebounding and passing.
Fowler applied the simple basics when she was hired to rebuild the McEachern program in 1990. She turned the Lady Indians into a regular 20-win team and ended her stay at McEachern with nine straight postseason appearances.
“When I first took the McEachern job (in 2006), I heard they had gone to state nine years in a row. That made me nervous and wanted to go to state,” Arthur said. “I remember telling the girls that we’re not going to be the ones that mess it up.”
Fowler then made the short move to the northern end of Powder Springs and launched Hillgrove’s program, and it was her final two years that were arguably her best. After the Lady Hawks joined the Class AAAAA ranks in 2010, they made two deep playoff runs — to the quarterfinals last season and the state championship this year.
Much of that had to do with the development of Hillgrove’s current senior class.
Celina Rodrigo, Meredith Heyer, Maisie Steed and Maurissa Lester were starters who grew up playing together, and that contributed heavily to Hillgrove’s success this season.
“I can’t say enough about this senior class,” Fowler said. “They played together and fought hard. They would play teams day in and day out who were better and they fought hard and refused to lose. They are winners, and they are going to win in life.”
The Lady Hawks (26-5), led by these four senior starters, refused to lose Friday after going into the locker room trailing 37-18 at halftime. They rotated different defenses to get McEachern out of its shooting rhythm, and shots started falling on the Lady Hawks’ end as a result of being more patient.
Hillgrove outscored McEachern 13-6 in the third quarter and denied the Lady Indians a bucket inside the paint. That enabled the Lady Hawks to fly right back into the game and cut the deficit to 12 points on a Mackenzie Engram 3-pointer.
“She taught us to never give up. ‘Keep your heads up through the good and the bad and play hard until the finish,’” said Rodrigo, who finished with a team-high 17 points for Hillgrove.
In the fourth quarter, however, McEachern began finishing its own missed shots and used that success to generate another run to put the game out of reach.